Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Frank Calzon*

( The Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fl)

Neither I nor Guillermo were bothered by the cold front that had closed
in on Havana that January. At 13 and 14, we were full of self-importance
as new traffic cops changing signals at important intersections. Batista
had fled, and Fidel Castro had asked the Boy Scouts to take over traffic
control until he arrived.

Everyone was celebrating, and hope surged through Cuba. People had read
Fidel's 1953 speech about the Cuban Republic that "had a constitution,
laws, liberties; president, congress, courts; anyone could meet,
associate, speak or write with complete freedom ... when there were
political parties, discussion programs on the radio, debates on
television, public meetings where people gathered with enthusiasm." He
was fighting to restore these liberties, and only those associated with
the old regime had doubts. Nobody then talked about Marxism, the Soviet
Union or Yankee imperialism. "Fidel is no communist," we said. "This is
just propaganda by Batista's followers."

The imprisonments and executions - even of some revolutionary heroes -
came all too quickly. Expropriations of foreign companies and large
landowners followed; then eventually all property - newspapers, radio
stations, beauty parlors and fruit stands - were nationalized. Would Ted
Turner ask his friend, Fidel, why?

After the expropriations came shortages and "temporary" rationing, still
in effect today. Worse, thousands were sent to UMAP (Military Units in
Aid of Production) work camps: long-haired youths, Jehovah's Witnesses,
intellectuals, gays. Would Sean Penn, another admirer of Castro, inquire
about those UMAP concentration camps?

Later, when over 100,000 Cubans fled the island, Castro packed the boats
with violent criminals and mental patients. Has author Gabriel García
Márquez, a Castro sympathizer, considered how a Latin American country
might react if a neighbor dumped criminals and mental patients on its

More recently, three black Cubans were caught trying to flee Cuba. They
were summarily tried and executed. Has filmmaker Michael Moore, an
apologist for Havana, asked why does trying to leave Cuba merit the
death penalty?

Now there are no Boy Scouts on the streets of Havana. Cuban children
today are expected to be "like Ché," who died trying to spread Castro's
brand of communism. Education is free, but students are forced to work
half the day harvesting vegetables to help achieve the communist utopia.

For some, these things are inconceivable.


*Frank Calzon is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba.

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